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Heart Disease in Cats

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Are you ever amazed at how your cat acts like a person? If only we could protect our cats from developing the same diseases as people. Unfortunately, cats can develop diseases that are also common in humans, such as heart disease. Aging is the most common reason cats develop a heart condition, but other factors like heartworms can also lead to heart disease.

What are heart conditions?

The heart is the most important organ in your cat’s body. It pumps blood containing oxygen and nutrients through the blood vessels to the cells of the body. Most heart conditions involve a decrease in the effective pumping of blood. This can lead to a buildup of fluid in the chest and abdomen. There are two main types of heart conditions: one affecting the heart valve and the other the heart muscle. Cats with either type can be successfully managed through nutrition, exercise and, if necessary, medication. With the right food and advice from your veterinarian, your cat can continue to enjoy a happy, active life.

Diagram of heart

The two main heart conditions

Chronic Valvular Disease: A leaking heart valve reduces the quantity of blood that can be pumped around the body.

Myocardial Disease: In this condition, weakness or thickening of the heart muscle results in the heart pumping less efficiently.

What causes heart conditions?

Although there is no single cause, nutritional problems can play a major role in heart conditions. Other factors that can contribute include:

Body condition: Overweight cats are more likely to develop heart disease.

Age: Heart conditions in cats occur more frequently with increasing age.

Breed: In cats, Persian, Maine coon and American shorthair breeds seem more likely to suffer from myocardial disease.

Does my cat have a heart condition?

It can be difficult to tell if your cat has a heart condition because the signs can be similar to those of other disorders. Your veterinarian may check for heart disease using some of the following methods.

  • A stethoscope exam can reveal murmurs and fluid in the lungs
  • Palpation can reveal unusual pulses
  • X-rays reveal heart enlargement
  • An EKG can identify heart enlargement and irregular rhythms
  • Blood and urine tests can reveal heartworms and the condition of other internal organs

The following symptoms may indicate a heart problem in your cat.

  • A low-pitched cough that sometimes leads to gagging
  • Breathing difficulties that include shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Swelling in the abdomen
Common signs of heart disease

IMPORTANT: A heart condition may not be obvious in the early stages. If you are in any doubt about your cat’s health, consult your veterinarian.

The importance of nutrition

Although treatments cannot reverse heart disease, your cat can live a relatively normal life. The food your cat eats plays an important role in her overall health and well-being. When your cat has been diagnosed with a heart condition, it’s even more important to feed the right cat food.

Heart disease typically causes the heart to enlarge, and this enlargement causes a loss of efficiency. The heart then begins to hold more fluid than it should and this is where the real problems begin. For this reason, veterinarians recommend feeding cats a low-sodium food that will help reduce fluid build-up and make it easier for their heart to work effectively. For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your cat’s heart health.

Ask Your Veterinarian About Heart Disease:

  1. Are there any foods I should avoid giving my cat because of her condition?
    • Ask how human food can affect your cat’s health.
  2. Would you recommend a Hill’s® Prescription Diet® cat food for my cat’s heart health?
    • Ask about special nutritional concerns for your cat
    • How much / how often you should feed the recommended food to your cat
  3. How quickly should I expect to see signs of improvement in my cat’s condition?
  4. Can you provide me with written instructions on heart disease for my cat?
  5. What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have questions?
    • Ask if you need a follow-up appointment.
    • Ask if a reminder email or notice will be sent.